ST. PETERSBURG -- One of the underplayed stories with the Red Sox of late has been the emergence of Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Be it offensively or defensively, Saltalamacchia is becoming a more well-rounded player.
It was there for everyone to see in Monday's 14-inning epic against the Rays. Not only did Saltalamacchia catch every Boston pitch, but he managed to belt four hits, two of them RBI singles in extra innings during the Sox's 10-8 win.
"A lot of people say with catchers, the later the game goes, the more tired they get or how hard it is for them," Saltalamacchia said. "It is true, but sometimes that can be a good thing. You're not trying too hard. You're just trying to see it and hit it."
In fact, Saltalamacchia has had a more simplified approach in most of his at-bats of late, and it is leading to better results.
Last year, Saltalamacchia was a big home run threat, smashing 25 of them. But he hit .222 and struck out 139 times in 405 at-bats.
Saltalamacchia came into Wednesday's game hitting .285 with eight homers and 28 RBIs. The strikeout number was still high (63), but that isn't as much of a drawback when you consider his .349 on-base percentage.
"I'm not trying to lift the ball [as much]," Saltalamacchia said. "Last year, I'd try to get a pitch on the outside half and lift it off the wall or something like that. I swung at some bad pitches and struck out. This year, I want to stay with the same approach of going with the ball where it's pitched, but I've been able to see a lot of pitches every at-bat and not do too much whenever I get in a good hitters' count."
If Saltalamacchia hits a few less homers than last year but keeps contributing with late-game hits like he did the other night, nobody will complain.
"Home runs are great," Saltalamacchia said. "You get everybody going. You're feeling good. But if you can get a two-out hit or a two-out RBI, those are just as good."
Then there is Saltalamacchia's work behind the plate. Following a start at Fenway Park last week, John Lackey went out of his way to say the following about Saltalamacchia.
"Salty did a great job for me behind the plate," Lackey said. "After taking a year off, I've really been impressed with the way he's been able to incorporate game plans and calling games since the last time I threw to him a couple years ago. He's made it easier on me."
Saltalamacchia enjoys praise like that, because he knows his game-calling is the most important aspect of his job.
"That's why I like to catch, because I'm able to help the team," Saltalamacchia said. "This pitching staff is going to take us to the World Series or it's not. The way they're pitching right now, it looks like they might take us. That's something we have to do together. It's not just them out there, it's not just me. I'm into it just as much as they are.
"Getting to know the guys is the biggest thing. I didn't know Lackey two years ago. I just faced him. [Clay Buchholz], same thing. [Jon] Lester, same thing. It takes time to get to know them. I feel like right now, I feel more comfortable than I've ever felt."
Buchholz iffy to make Sunday start vs. Orioles
ST. PETERSBURG -- Manager John Farrell sounded less confident on Wednesday that Clay Buchholz would be able to start Sunday against the Orioles than he did 24 hours earlier.
This isn't to say Buchholz has had a setback. Instead, the Red Sox just need his ailing neck/AC joint to heal completely before he is back on the mound.
Buchholz played some catch on Wednesday.
"He threw the ball OK. I think he still felt a little bit of stiffness, but he improved over the last time he had a ball in his hands, with 48 hours of no throw," said Farrell. "We've got to factor in what takes place today and tomorrow for preparing through the rotation through Baltimore. We have options. Obviously we can bring Jon [Lester] back on Sunday and push Clay back to next Tuesday. If there's not marked improvement by tomorrow, we may be looking to do just that."
Lester would be on regular rest on Sunday, and Monday's off-day would then give Buchholz an additional two days to recuperate from his injury.
"The fact that he's still feeling some stiffness, we've got to factor that in," said Farrell. "This would only be two additional days than is normal rest. Much like with the approach we took the last time, we'll go when he's ready, and we have to factor every day he puts a ball in his hand into this."
Red Sox helping Lester to get back to basics
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jon Lester met with manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves on Wednesday to discuss his recent slump.
Lester is probably just a few minor adjustments away from regaining the form he had earlier this season.
"We met today, the three of us, to get back to some basics and re-establish what his strengths are," said Farrell. "And that is his four-seam fastball to his glove side, and that's not to say that every pitch is in that location. That establishes release point in the event that he needs to go to an area to get back into a count or to start a hitter off with.
"But it hasn't affected him with all the pitches that he throws. Last night, it was pretty clear that he was searching to get some consistency and some semblance of a four-pitch mix rather than kind of searching from one pitch to the next."
Though the Red Sox had a clear reason for their game plan in Tuesday's game against the Rays, Farrell can see why it might have adversely impacted Lester.
"Typically, you'd like to go into a game and establish your fastball and things work off of that," Farrell said. "There was a distinct plan last night to try to incorporate more offspeed early on, given their approach to fastballs early in the count. And what it took away from was establishing the fastball to do just that. We've got to get back to some basics."